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1st Conference 2015 – Evoking Excellence Through Agile Coaching

The presentation I delivered last year at  1st Conference 2015 titled “Evoking Excellence Through Agile Coaching” is available on Slideshare.

 

We’re here to change the world – Reflections on Agile Australia 2015

agileaus“You are not here to build software. You are here to change the world” were the words used by Linda Rising at her Keynote that was attended by 1100 attendees at the 7th Agile Australia Conference in Sydney last month.  In today’s world, you can’t stay still.  Nigel Dalton cited Charles Darwin when he said
It is not the strongest species [organisation] that survives, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
Things are evolving fast and we live in an unpredictable, complex business environment.  We need to change the world!
There were a number of great topics presented and this year found it harder to prioritise what to attend.  This was my 7th Agile Australia Conference and looking back at the very first Agile Australia conference, the industry has evolved and changed a lot over the years.  The first conference was dominated by a few players (the early adopters in Australia) and consisted of 29 sessions hosted in 2 parallel streams with 350 attendees.  In 2015 there were 56 sessions, 5 parallel streams and with 1100 attendees.  It was a pleasure to be a Chair at the conference again this year with the stream ‘Build Measure, Learn’ with my co-chair Paula Ngov and help contribute to the program.
Agile Australia Attendees

Agile Australia Conference Attendees 2009 to 2015

Over two jam packed days, there were a lot of new ideas to experiment with but there were also some basics to cater for those just starting out on their agile journey. The vibe at the conference is that Agile is no longer a fad and is transforming across the wider organisation – we have crossed the chasm from IT agility to business agility. However, speaking with people from the trenches there are still many struggling to get the benefits of agile with existing hierarchical management style at odds with the horizontal product delivery focus of agile. James Shore summaries this well when he said

agile is about how you think and that organisation thinking overrides team thinking. Therefore success with agile depends primarily on organisational culture and investments.

Here’s some highlights from the conference:

David Marquet (@ldavidmarquet) – Intent-based leadership

David Marquet is a former nuclear submarine commander and author of the book ‘Turn the ship around‘. His opening Keynote looked at the future of Leadership.

  • In the future leaders will get people to think (not do)
  • In the future Leaders will help people feel safe (not scared)
  • In the future leaders will push authority to information (not information to authority)
  • People doing the work can make better decisions because they have the information. You will get better speed of execution because you don’t have a delay.
  • In the future leaders will focus on getting better (not being good)
  • In the future leaders will fix the environment (not the people)
  • In the future, leaders will give control & take leadership
    • The only thing hard about this is you, we have been genetically and culturally to take control and attract followers. What you want to do is give control and create leaders.

During his keynote, David did a live poll of the audience on what it would like to work in an environment where the leadership style meant controlling people . I hope the managers and leaders in your organisation are not creating a work environment like this….

davidmarquet

What working under a leadership style that meant controlling people, David Marquet

 

Jeremie Benazra (@jemben) – How forgotten knowledge will help you avoid regrettable decisions

Jeremie’s presentation took a interesting look at turning some common questions we may face into reality checks using some common principles that we know today. Whenever we make decisions we need to be grounded (and often reminded) that there are certain principles that may challenge our biases.

Principle Question you want to ask Question you should be asking
Moore’s Law: Information systems doubles capacity for the same price every two years “Which technology is the best to invest in now?” “How long do we want to maintain the product using this technology?”
Allen’s Curve: The communication efficiency decreases exponentially with the physical distance between the persons “How much could I outsource?”Or what I come across a lot is a statement that “outsourcing is cheaper”. “How much effort are you ready to dedicate to make outsourcing work?”
Parkinson’s Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion “How long do you need to get this done?” “Do you have any time constrain? What is your deadline?”
Little’s Law: The lead time is proportional to the number of items in the system and their time in the system. “Tell me when I could expect to get this done as well?” “How urgent is it compare to what is currently in progress?”
Meskimen’s Law: There is enough time to do it right, but there is always enough time to do it over. “How complete are you?  How far along are you?” “Could you help me clarify what we consider complete?”
Brooke’s Law – The Mythical Man Month: Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. “How many people do you need to get this Done? Faster! “What are you ready to trade off, scope?”
Conway’s Law: Organisations are constrained to produce designs which are copies of their communication structures “How could you improve our customer experience?” “How could we remove some organisational silos to work better together?

Bernd Schiffer (@berndschiffer) – Concrete experimentation in Agile environments

Bernd talked about a problem that many organisations face today, struggling turning change ideas into tangible outcomes so they get better at being Agile. What we need is a way to use experiments to drive change throughout the organisation and Bernd introduced a nice mnemonic to help us remember how to perform an experiment to drive change and improvement – CAT SHOE, SIC! It’s really simple of course:

cat shoe sic

CAT SHOE, SIC!, Bernd Schiffer

  • Clear goal – what are the outcomes you want to achieve
  • Arranged – A plan how you will approach the experiment
  • Trackable through metrics – measure the improvement/change. did it have an impact?
  • Small – make small incremental experiements, short timeframe, small/one team.
  • Has due date – do I need to say more? timebox the experiment
  • Out in the open – make the experiment visible eg use ganban boards
  • Evaluated through hypothesis – leveraging the lean startup approach, what hypothesis are you trying to prove? what does success look like? what does failure look like?
  • Safe-To-Fail – it is an experiment after all so we need to take some risks, but balance risk taking with impact if it fails. You need to be able to recover (and learn) from failure
  • Impelled by champions – need people (1 or 2) to sponsor and champion the experiment – they will own the outcome and be impelled to make it happen
  • Communicated before start – be transparent and make sure everyone understands and is comfortable with the experiment before starting

Stuart Bargon (@StuartBargon) – Don’t scale Agile. Descale your organisation.

With many talks about scaling agile and lots of conversations in the industry about applying agile in the large enterprises, its easy to forget what makes agile successful. Enterprises often scale by watering down agile.  So it was refreshing to see a talk about descaling the organisation.   Stuart described how Fairfax Media, one of Australia’s oldest public companies transformed its Domain Group business to be a focused, nimble, growing and Agile company.
domain

Descale your organisation, Stuart Bargon

Of note, when Fairfax Media formed Domain Group, they moved PMO across but then moved it back into Fairfax Media.  From the image, you can see from the new structure the PMO were no longer needed as the decisions that was traditionally done by the PMO is now taken on internally by the Product Development Teams (circled in green) as they are closer to the information.  Not only did they descale the organisation, the descaled the need for coordination/projects by making teams responsible for a product area and are largely independent of each other.  To enable teams have this autonomy, they made some investments to descale their technology and introduced microservices.  The decoupled technology removed the tight coupling/dependencies between teams so they can be autonomous and release independently.

Anders Ivarsson (@anders_ivarsson) – Autonomy and Leadership at Spotify

Whilst Anders said that the “the Spotify model” never intended as a model, many teams and organisations are trying to adopt their way of organising into squads, chapters, tribes and guilds.  The “model” is a snapshot of how they work at a given time and is constantly evolving.  Details of the model (as of 2012) can be found in the document Scaling Agile @ Spotify with Tribes, Squads, Chapters and Guilds, and in the videos Spotify Engineering Culture (as of 2014) Part 1 and Part 2 .
Anders reinforced some earlier messages in the conference that success is all about the team and leadership is all about supporting the team – it is the leadership behaviours that is important – not a role.  “POTLAC” is the leadership at Spotify – Product Owner, Chapter (Team) Lead, Agile Coach.
Although many will see “the Spotify model” as a poster child for how to be agile and therefore don’t need any coaching, one notable importance is that Spoitfy values the role of the Agile Coach.  Every team has an coach.  There is no end to the Agile Journey and Spotify is alway improving – “Improve Everything”.   The role of the Agile Coach is important to support the squad and teams on their journey towards high performance and continuous improvement.
Anders emphasised the importance of having a mindset of not letting stupid things get in the way and paramount is having a kickass engineering discipline.
spotify

Spotify Agile Coach, Anders Ivarsson

Linda Rising (@RisingLinda) – Myths and patterns of organisational change

Linda is the author of several books, the most notable being Fearless Change – Patterns for Introducing New Ideas.  Just like Design Patterns from the Gang of Four, Linda has introduced some patterns as way to address recurring problems with organisational change.  There are some cognitive biases that prevent us from introducing new ideas and she tackled these through demystifying these myths and their pattern for change and influence:
Myth Pattern for Change
Myth #1: Smart People are rational

  • Most people make decisions that are not rational or for logical reasons.  In reality rational arguments with reasons, benefits and decision tables do not convince people. No matter how well you explain things to people, people don’t buy-in.
  • None of our decisions are rational, but we are good at explaining decisions once a decision has been made – a process called rationalisation.
Take on a role of a Evangelist.You need to believe and have a passion for the change.  What you have is your belief that your idea is a good one and that it will work.Create short term goals – build on your successes and learn from your failures – do small experiments, just do it, time for reflection, baby steps.
Myth #2: Good always triumphs over evil. (Just World Fallacy, one of our many cognitive biases.)

  • My idea is so good, that should be enough.
  • There is a belief that truth, justice and good should win.
Do Food.
Data clearly shows, that when we are eating we are more open to influence.All languages speak to this connection.  When we eat together, there’s a feeling these are the people we trust – its a great influencer even if its a bad idea.
Myth #3: If I just had enough power I could make people change.

  • People believe that they can tell people what to do, and if they don’t they can just fire them.
  • This is an illusion, this does not make real change.  Forcing people to change, you may get compliance (or appearance of compliance).  What you want is real change.  We want people who are passionate about and care about it.  We want people to have real commitment, and you can’t get this with an edict.
Personal Touch.You must address a genuine user need.  Data does not equal empathy.  You need to reach out and try to understand the viewpoint of people who you want to change and give them a reason (sell your idea as a way for them to be better).Different people accept new ideas differently, so you will need to address people differently and answer the “What’s in it for me?” and bring them along the journey.
Myth #4: Skeptics, cynics, resistors—THOSE people, well, they must be BAD or STUPID or BOTH!! Ignore them!!

  • We label people as THOSE people.  This ends up dividing the world up.
Fear LessUse resistance to your advantage.
Listen, really listen and learn all you can, even from the cynics.  Respect and build on the resistance.Find a Champion Skeptic: Encourage a resistor to play the important role of “Devil’s Advocate.”  Treat the person as valued partner in the change effort.  Get them to help get better.
Myth #5:You’re a smart person, so you don’t need help from others. After all, it’s your idea! Ask For HelpThe idea is yours and you believe in it, but the change must NOT be “all about you”.You need other people’s help.  And when others help you, recognise their contribution with Sincere Appreciation – this is a powerful influencer!  The thanks must be sincere, timely, contain details of what they did and the impact of their help.
What pattern will you use to change?
Linda was very generous with her busy travel schedule and joined us at the Agile Coaching Circles Meetup the following day in Melbourne.

Final words…

There were some good talks about DevOps to reduce time to market, improve quality and improve resilience to enable business agility and enablers of the digital disruption.
Embracing failure and having an experimentation mindset was a common theme with several speakers advocating “fail and learn early”.  In a complex situation you need to create environments and experiments that allow patterns to emerge.
A popular session was a talk on how Daniel Pink’s Drive was used to create an amazing culture where autonomy, mastery and purpose was used to drive happiness and productivity.  It’s not about motivating people, it’s about leaders creating an environment where people just want to do it – turn work into play.
Many talks focused on working in a lean fashion and being totally focused on delivering value to customers using concepts such as A/B testing, lean startup and customer driven development.  Irene Au who was Yahoo’s VP User Experience and Google’s Head of User Experience talked about the importance of design and encouraged everyone to be a designer.
It was pleasant to catchup with old friends but to meet new ones as well whilst at the conference.  The heart of agile is always about improvement & change – it’s a journey that never ends.  Organisations are insanely complex that there is not one solution that works – you need to target the change to your organisation.  You need to bring the agile principles into your work environment and make them what you need them to be.
Overall, there was a great buzz about the conference, with lots of conversations and I think many walked away being inspired to change the world.

Success in 2015 starts with Agile Coach Camp Melbourne

twitter photoLike most of us, one of your goals for the new year may include growing as an Agile coach, making a difference in your life & career.  2015 presents an opportunity with Agile Coach Camp Melbourne. Agile Coach Camp is a practitioner-run unconference for peer-to-peer learning and exploration.

Do you have a technique or practice worth sharing with your peers? Or an idea you’d like to test out with some leaders in the community? Are you facing challenges and want to get some perspective from other practitioners, or hear how they do things? If you feel you would benefit from connecting with 50 like-minded peers to talk, draw, discuss and explore ideas, then this unconference is for you.

Bernd Schiffer and I are in the final stages of organising Agile Coach Camp for Melbourne 2015.  We have locked in a location, thanks to our venue Sponsor Nintex.  On March 21 you are invited to join some of the most engaged learners and practitioners who, like you, are passionate about their work, active in the field and willing to share what they’ve learned.

You don’t have to be an expert to propose a topic or ask a question at Agile Coach Camp. You are simply inviting people into a conversation with you – other people who are also passionate about your topic or question. These conversations can build knowledge, and often lead to future collaborations. Open Space is great for networking!

Tickets go on sale on Tuesday 10 March 9am at acc2015mel.eventbrite.com.au

For more information visit www.agilecoachcampaustralia.org

I am an Agile Plumber

I am an Agile Plumber – I eliminate waste, remove blockages and increase flow.

This week we had an agile workshop to establish some goals and create some epics for next quarter’s release for the agile change team at an organization I am coaching.

One of the items we covered in the workshop was to come up with a new team name for our agile change team as a result of some organization changes.  Some of the names included:

  • Agile Change Team (A.C.T.)
  • Agile Capability Delivery Centre (AC-DC)
  • The Enablers
  • Centre for Agile Practices

….and there were many more.

When we went to vote on a name, a clear winner was Agile Plumbers.  This name was quite humorous at first and we all got a good laugh, but the name is symbolic and there is some serious intent behind it.

An important aspect of agile and lean is about eliminating waste, removing blockages, and increasing flow which can really can change the way you build software.

There are many forms of waste including partially done work, extra processes, extra features, task switching, waiting, motion and defects.  By looking at the waste that is in the steps you are doing and removing the waste you can do more with less.

We also have failure modes because we’re not paying attention to what it really takes to be agile.  There are many roadblocks and blockages to getting to success.  There are roadblocks that occur within teams and projects, but there are larger organizational roadblocks which are impediments to any agile approach.  Agile touches on many aspects of an enterprise organization and changes many existing organizational processes that are more acquainted to waterfall.  Examples include:

  • Procurement, such as selecting and working with vendors.
  • HR, especially what type of people we want to recruit, and changing manager’s KPIs to align more with a collaborative culture.
  • Finance, how we structure the organization’s funding model to align with agile approaches and incremental delivery.  Also funding may need to change to support a lean pipeline of work (continuous flow of work), rather than ‘individual projects’.
  • Legal, how we write contracts that support agile teams and approaches.
  • Training, creating training programs for agile (not only including agile specific topics, but also leadership and soft skills that are required in a collaborative organization).
  • Governance, most traditional governance does not work with agile.
  • Add your own organizational impact and blockage here that needs removing.

Finally, a goal of lean and kanban is increasing the efficient delivery of value through limiting the work in progress (WIP), making work visible and increasing the overall flow.  Optimizing the entire value stream, from initial concept to consumption is fundamental to increasing flow of value through the organization.  The idea is to get an idea into the development pipeline and out to the customer as fast as possible by looking at the existing processes and improving them and in the process eliminate waste and create value.

The other advantage of being called an Agile Plumber is that the name creates an memorable impression.  In a large organization with many business units and organizational teams, one thing that can be difficult is being able to identify where agile help can be found.

So next time you need someone to help eliminate waste, remove blockages and increase flow, call your nearest Agile Plumber!

Training to become an Agile Coach?

[Edited: Updated links 28 Feb 2011]

Today I received an interesting question – “What training is there to develop agile coaches as output of the training?”

The goal of an Agile coach is grow a productive Agile team that thinks for itself rather than relying on someone to prescribe the way to do things. Showing people how to be Agile isn’t enough. They need to change how they work and how they think in order for Agile to stick. A coach helps people to unlearn old habits and break the old mental models we are so use to before so people can work effectively as members of an Agile Team. As an Agile Coach, you must guide people through rough patches until they can find their own way.

The Agile Coach is also a mentor. They support engagements in exploring, adopting and optimizing Agile principles and practices. The Agile Coach mentors Scrum Teams and ScrumMasters, and coaches Product Owners. They help develop and sustain a simple measurement system for the Team performance and help teams and stakeholders to define and experiment with various countermeasures to the impediments uncovered in the work process. An an Agile Coach you may also need to develop customized training materials and deliver training for Management, Executives, product owners and other team members (business analysts, developers, testers, etc.).

To be a good Agile Coach you must have experienced the pain of working on Agile engagements. I think an Agile Coach is a natural progression by someone who has many years as an Agile practitioner and has the right mindset, lean thinking and then having the ability to help teams so they become better.

I think my past experiences have made me into a better coach and I certainly would not feel that I would perform my role properly as an Agile Coach without that experience.

There are definitely some good resources to become a better coach, but I wouldn’t think you could have a training program that turns someone who hasn’t experienced Agile into a Coach (well a good one anyways). Using an analogy – many sports coach (eg tennis, basketball, football) have had experience playing and studying their sport before imparting their knowledge to their protégé.

Here are some good related links on Agile Coaching that I have come across:

You might also want to check out Lyssa Adkins’ book, Coaching Agile Teams, which I am reading now.  I will post a book review when I am done.

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